2021 Deeper Dive series

THE 2021 DEEPER-DIVE SERIES:

A CLOSER LOOK AT ‘SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS’

Small Mouth Sounds. Photo by Leslie Simon.

The regathered cast of 'Small Mouth Sounds' came within hours of opening in March 2020 when the COVID shutdown began in March. Photo by Leslie Simon.

What is left to say when words fail us?

  • Written by: Bess Wohl
  • Year written: 2015
  • Genre: Minimalist piece of experimental theater
  • Director: Lynne Collins
  • Dates: Through May 30, 2021
  • Where: Arvada Center Black Box Theatre
  • The play at a glance: “Small Mouth Sounds,” one of the most produced new plays of 2019, takes place entirely at a silent yoga retreat where six runaways from city life strive for self-acceptance. That's right: Silent. With the exception of the unseen guru running this spiritual retreat, the characters rarely speak. So both the humor and the pathos of the piece spring mostly from wordless interaction. In the story, set in the overwhelming quiet of the woods, these six confront their internal demons both profound and absurd, their vows of silence colliding with the achingly universal human need to connect. Filled with awkward humor, this strange and compassionate new play asks how we address life’s biggest questions when words fail us.
  • Quote from the script: “Think of this retreat as a vacation from your habits. Your routines. Yourself. It is the best kind. Of vacation. Because after this. You don’t ever have to go back. To who you were.”
  • About the playwright: Wohl, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Drama, also writes screenplays and has developed TV projects for HBO, ABC, USA, FOX, Disney, Paramount and others. Variety said: “With her theatrical know-how and offbeat imagination, this is a scribe worth fighting over.” In her previous life as an actress, she appeared onstage in New York and in numerous films and TV shows where she has given birth, solved crimes, committed crimes, been wrongly accused and come back from the dead. She made her Broadway playwriting debut last December with “Grand Horizons,” which closed two weeks before the coronavirus shut down Broadway.

'It’s all about the desire to find safety in an unsafe world.' – Lynne Collins
  • Timing is everything: The Arvada Center was within hours of officially opening “Small Mouth Sounds” in March 2020 when the COVID19 shutdown began. It was first rescheduled for February 2021 and is only now finally being presented to a live audience. It has been moved to the mainstage theatre for increased social distancing.
  • Says Lynne Collins: “This is the perfect play for this time. It’s all about the desire to find safety in an unsafe world. To find community in world that feels very isolated. The silence in the play becomes a metaphor for what is happening to us right now in the real world, when we can’t fully connect with our loved ones, and we are trying desperately to create meaning in our lives. Back in March, as we headed into what turned out to not be our Opening Night, it became apparent to me that this play is about needing a way to live in a world that feels terrifying and unstable and unsure. But in the end, its message is so important: You are not alone.”
  • From the author: “This play was inspired by a silent spiritual retreat I participated in at the Omega Institute in upstate New York. Everyone in this play is in some kind of agony. In this way, they are not unlike the rest of us. They have come to this retreat in the hope of finding some kind of relief. This desire should feel very immediate and present throughout the action of the play.”
  • What critics have said: The New York Times calls “Small Mouth Sounds” “a model of theatrical ingenuity.” Variety says the play “casts the audience as voyeurs in an entertaining adventure that gradually darkens into tragedy.” … Says Time Out New York: “Wohl’s luminous play uses silence to dig into the core of human pain, which, like everything unendurable, can also be very funny.”
  • Content Advisory: Some strong language, partial nudity … and lots of silence.

– Compiled by John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist

Video bonus: An inside look at 'Small Mouth Sounds,' by Zachary Andrews Photography

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